Playing political football with military matters by Col Buntuguh (rtd.)

Playing political football with military matters by Col Buntuguh (rtd.)
Source: Ghana | Myjoyonline.com| Lieutenant Colonel John Buntuguh (Rtd)
Date: 30-04-2018 Time: 08:04:34:am
Defence Minister, Dominic Nitiwul

It appears the controversy surrounding the defence cooperation agreement between Ghana and the US, which was ratified by parliament is not going away anytime soon. I have read and heard many commentaries on the subject, depending on people's perceptions, understanding and political inclination.

As someone who has served the colours for over twenty-six years and operated in several countries, I wish to make an input into the subject, which has, unfortunately, divided the country along partisan lines. I am doing this because as a good citizen, I have a stake in the country, like everyone else.  Besides, I am of the conviction that a major part of the discourse on the subject has been characterized by dishonesty, insincerity, ignorance and downright uninformed assumptions. At the risk of appearing to be displaying one or more of those traits, I will try to dispassionately address some of the issues, given my training, experience and aptitude.

Let me begin by submitting that, in my view, the leakage of the agreement was needless. It appears those who leaked the document, which was yet to be deliberated in parliament, planned to give it a certain twist to achieve a certain political objective. That apparently forced the Minister for Defence to hold a news conference to clear the air and I must confess that my initial understanding of the sequence of events were premised on what I learnt from the news conference. The minister subsequently appeared on a Joy News television/radio current affairs programme, News File, where I had the opportunity to hear from him as well as the other panelists with varying views.   

On the programme, the minister gave a rundown of events beginning with a letter he received from the US Embassy over a year ago proposing the defence agreement with Ghana, which was supposed to be an enhancement of already existing agreements between the two countries. He went on to talk about consultations he held with relevant ministries, departments and agencies before a meeting was arranged with the US Department of Defence (DoD) representatives. These are all common knowledge, so I will skip the details. He indicated, however, that the document which was submitted to cabinet and later laid before parliament was a thoroughly reviewed one from the proposals originally submitted by the Americans and had the inputs of several bodies, including the top hierarchy of the armed forces.    

In subsequent news items I gleaned from other sources, I found out that the earliest defence agreement between Ghana and the US dates back to 1962, which was the result of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations signed on 18 April 1961. Ghana has since entered into other defence agreements with the US in 1998, in 2003 and in 2015. The majority in parliament insists that the agreements signed in 1998 and 2015 had virtually the same provisions as the recently ratified one, but the minority holds a contrary view. However, it has emerged that, in 2014, the Ghana government received a diplomatic note from the Americans seeking approval to use Ghanaian space and territory to launch 200 marine forces on some operations in the sub-region, together with their logistics, beginning from 10 February 2015. The US also sought to use our air space for their aircraft to conduct flights for the duration of the operation. This request must have been based on the already existing agreements of 1998 and 2015.

However, a former Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs was quoted as saying that comparing the 1998 and 2015 agreements to the 2018 one was like comparing apples to oranges. I agree with him, to some extent. In my opinion, the main difference is that, while the erstwhile governments entered into the earlier agreements clandestinely, the current government decided to seek the consent of Ghanaians through their representatives in parliament. Given the dynamics of the current controversy, one may say that a good number of Ghanaians are against the latest agreement. I must hasten to add that, if the past governments had taken the earlier agreements to parliament, the reaction from the then minority would have been the same. Partisanship has clearly characterized the whole issue and beclouded an otherwise very important matter, which needs sober minds to reign. Indeed, in my view, the minority see this as an opportunity to score political points and not necessarily because they are more patriotic than those currently at the helm of affairs.

Those opposing the current agreement want us to believe that this is not an NPP versus NDC thing, but a spontaneous reaction of the mass of Ghanaians against an agreement that is going to undermine the sovereignty of our nation. I beg to differ. My view is that the reaction of the people is as a result of what has been fed them by the minority and other bodies which are against the agreement. So, how true is their claim that the majority of Ghanaians are against the recently ratified 2018 Agreement? I hesitate to use the word true because, at this point, the truth depends on who you are listening to. After all, it is said that the only time politicians speak the truth is when they call other politicians liars. That is why parliament should have dispassionately discussed the issue to bring out all the facts to enable Ghanaians have an informed view of the subject.  Unfortunately, the minority did not even allow for a debate on the subject with their leader delivering a 17-minute harangue, after which they staged a walk-out. The majority did not also help matters when they hastily ratified the agreement, with all its seeming flaws, which has now thrown the entire country into confusion and uncertainty. It may be unfair to condemn the majority and government for that matter, for rushing the agreement through parliament, because, given the way the people had been whipped into frenzy, any further delay would have led to consequences of catastrophic dimensions.

Some political party leaders took this whole thing too personally and stormed parliament determined to make the debate on the subject impossible. Overnight, groups which were hitherto unheard of, suddenly mushroomed determined to draw blood. In my opinion, they were largely misled by the propagandist vituperations of some opposition forces. So-called security experts, including very learned people suddenly blossomed. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with this development. Indeed, it has served to open the subject for further scrutiny. However, some of the views espoused were mere political postulations, which in my view, sometimes, smacked of pettiness.

The articles in the agreement which drew the most ire of the opposition forces were that, "Ghana will provide unimpeded access to and use of agreed facilities and areas to the US forces and contractors and others as mutually agreed. Ghana will also grant free use of the country's radio spectrum by the US forces."

Another provision that has been said to be offensive to the sensibilities of Ghanaians is this one, "The US forces are hereby authorized to control entry to agreed facilities and areas that have been provided for the exclusive use of the US and to coordinate entry with the authorities of Ghana at agreed facilities and areas provided for joint use by the US forces and Ghana for purposes of safety and security."

They also object to the waiving of duties on equipment brought into the country by the US forces for their use, which is also a requirement in the agreement. Furthermore, they are averse to the provision that any US troops who fall foul of our laws are to be sent back home to be tried according to their regulations. Indeed, they don't even accept the article which says that US troops could use their ID cards to drive while in Ghana, since according to them, Ghanaian troops may not enjoy similar privileges in America.

While some Ghanaians are opposed to certain specific provisions in the agreement, others are appalled at the idea of a defence agreement altogether. There are those who often repeat the cliché that the US has no permanent friends but permanent interests. Can anyone tell me one country in the world that has permanent friends? Does Ghana have permanent friends, who will always be our friends whether CPP, NDC, NPP or PPP is in power? There are those who also hold the view that this entire agreement is the establishment of a US military base in Ghana. In spite of the repudiation of this claim by both countries' governments, they continue to hold that view. Based on that line of thought, they claim that implementing the agreement will lead to a hike in crime, prostitution, fatherless children, "gayism", targeting by extremist groups etc, etc. Somebody even said, with all seriousness that, since same sex marriages are allowed in some states in the US, some US troops will have carnal knowledge of Ghanaian males and they cannot be tried in Ghana according to our laws.  

I will like to comment on the impact of the earlier agreements which were entered into between the two countries, which the new agreement now seeks to enhance. As a result of the 1998 Agreement, there was a joint exercise known as the Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI), which involved troops from Ghana and the US. It was basically a command post exercise where the Americans provided all the logistics, including computers which they carried away afterwards. I personally participated in that exercise as a company commander. We shared a lot of experiences with the Americans, especially as we are renowned for our prowess in peacekeeping while they took us through peace enforcement drills.

Then in the early 2000s, the Americans began another training programme with the Ghana Armed Forces called the Africa Contingency Operation Training and Assistance (ACOTA) at the pre-operational training camp in Bundase. Under that programme, the Americans assisted in training our troops, who were being launched into various peacekeeping theatres. The training camp, before then, was made up of canopies, which made it very uncomfortable whenever it rained. The Americans put up walled structures and provided vehicles, ambulances, water tankers and generators which went a long way to facilitate the training. They lived with our troops in the camp but used their own equipment. When the Americans left, we benefited from the permanent walled structures, in addition to the ambulances, tankers and other facilities they left behind. That programme was therefore extremely beneficial to our armed forces. I am not aware of any fatherless children left behind by the Americans or the upsurge in crime as a result of their presence in our midst though they were in the country for some years.

Also, under the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) Ghana participated in several exercises with American troops, together with other West African troops, who often came into the country with their personal weapons. I was an administrator at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC), which hosted them, during one of those exercises, so I know what I am talking about. I am recounting all these instances to illustrate the fact that collaborating with the Americans as a result of the previous agreements was not such a bad thing and if the 2018 Agreement seeks to enhance that collaboration, it should be encouraged, rather than condemned.        

With regard to the specific concerns on the 2018 Ghana-US Defence Cooperation Agreement, I will like to use my personal experiences to debunk some of the claims of those who are protesting against it. I have travelled to over eight countries in line with my military duties. Admittedly, those tours of duty were for peacekeeping operations. Nevertheless, their provisions are standard procedure on the globe. On none of those tours were troops barred from wearing uniforms and carrying their personal weapons. Furthermore, in none of the missions served did I come across a provision that troops deployed on operational duties should be tried in the host country. No matter the crime, they are normally repatriated to their home countries for the necessary judicial processes to take place. Note that I am referring to troops deployed on official duties in groups; it does not include a soldier who goes on leave in his personal capacity and falls foul of that country's laws.

On the concerns against the waiving of taxes on equipment to be brought into the country for operational or training purposes, I find it difficult to under the protesters. This is standard practice and I expected them to have known this simple fact.  I am yet to see a defence agreement, where foreign troops are made to pay duties on their equipment unless it is for commercial purposes. I attended a course on multilateralism and I don't remember coming across any agreement, where items of visiting personnel used for their jobs are taxed. The leaders of the protest should therefore not have misled their followers in this regard. I also think, the use of the term contractors, is confusing a lot of people. The term contractors, as used in the agreement, does not refer to building or road contractors. It refers to people, who are not government employees, but are engaged by government to perform certain specific tasks. In UN circles, they have permanent staff, experts, contractors and volunteers. The UN system is run along the same lines as the American system. So our building contractors should not fear that the Americans are bringing their own contractors for construction purposes.

The interpretation given to the issue of the radio spectrum is another laughable matter. I heard one of the leaders of the protests saying that even Ghanaian radio stations which could not pay their licenses were closed down, yet the Americans were coming to enjoy free radio broadcasts. The radio spectrum is actually referring to the grant of license for the establishment of telecommunication networks, not FM radio stations. They are not setting up stations to challenge Joy FM, Peace FM and our TV stations. The telecommunication networks enable them to establish radio and telephone networks, satellite and internet facilities. If they had bothered to enquire from the Signal Regiment of the Ghana Armed Forces, they wouldn't have so exposed their ignorance. Use of telecommunication is normally highlighted in agreements when troops are being deployed and there is no security threat to the host country, unless there is a suspicion that it could be used by enemy countries. In fact, until cell phones became popular, the only means of reaching our home countries, when we were in Lebanon, was through radio communication.

Provision of security for the facilities of visiting troops is normally their own responsibility, so I don't understand the fuss that is being made about the article in the agreement which says that the Americans will provide security for their installations. However, if there are facilities that are jointly owned, the host country would be responsible for security, as spelt out in the agreement. That is standard procedure. This does not imply that the facilities of the visiting troops are out of bounds to local authorities. Far from that. In fact, there has never been a situation in my several tours of duty outside Ghana where the host country provided guards for our premises.

I guess the big question is whether or not this agreement amounts to the establishment of a military base in Ghana. The governments of the two countries have clarified that the agreement does not entail establishing a military base. The opposition and their collaborators insist that, looking at the terms of the agreement, it can be inferred that the US is establishing a military base in the country. My understanding of a military base is that it is a military village made up of living accommodation for troops, offices and all the facilities normally found in a military barracks. It is not just a structure or an installation from which military operations are launched, as some of the "experts" are claiming. Can there be a military village in Ghana without us citizens knowing? The current government decided to lay the 2018 Agreement before parliament, just as it was done with the Non-Surrender Agreement under the Kufuor regime in October 2003. It is instructive to note that the 1998 and 2015 Agreements were not laid before parliament but rather surreptitiously signed, with the result that no one could comment on them. So which is the better option?

Incidentally, I visited the military base the Americans have in Manheim, in Germany, several years ago, so I have an idea of what it takes to establish a base. It was as big as any of our battalions in Ghana, if not bigger. It was a whole village with facilities for accommodation, office routine, training, recreational facilities, name them. It is laughable for anyone to suggest that the Americans are about to establish a military base near the international airport. Honestly speaking, Accra cannot contain a military base. A base is not just a building or a mast for communication networks. Then we can as well say that the American embassy itself is a military base.

I am actually amazed at some of the reasons for which some people oppose the 2018 Agreement. Let me recall their claim that American soldiers could sodomize Ghanaians and go scot free, because gay marriage is legal in some American states. Is it not funny that we should use that as a reason to oppose a defence agreement? Why do we choose to trivialize such a serious matter? Some animals are delicacies for people in some parts of our country, but in the US, they are seen as pets. They are normally mourned by their owners when they die. However, to some of us Ghanaians, they are a delicacy. Are we saying that, if a Ghanaian soldier goes to the US as part of a military team and kills one of those animals, by our logic, he should be tried in a US court?

By the way, has anyone noticed that there has lately been what appears to be a shift in the original stance of those opposing the agreement? They originally demanded an outright rejection of the agreement, with some vowing to do whatever it takes to ensure that happens. However, some of them now appear to be softening their stance. To begin with, some minority members of parliament are claiming that the agreement was not properly laid before parliament, as it was not executed, whatever that means. I suspect some of them are regretting their decision to walk out, which denied them the opportunity to make an input into the agreement. Moreover, except for the overzealous ones, some of those who participated in the latest demonstrations appear to appreciate the importance of the deal, even if they are unhappy with some clauses in it. I see that as a plus for national cohesion, though I am not too sure about what provisions they are against.

In all this, I have been wondering if the protesters have bothered to seek the views of the military on the subject. It will be wrong to assume that the soldier only knows "yes sir" so the politicians will force decisions down their throats. The military high command is made up of very highly trained senior officers who have studied in the highest institutions of learning in the world. They are graduates of various war colleges, where they studied military science, philosophy and doctrine to the highest possible level. Some Ghanaians still assume that soldiers are people who could not do well in school, that is why they found solace in the military. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have some of the best brains in the Ghana Armed Forces in medicine, law, engineering, even in academia, so it will be wrong to assume that they can speak for the military. The minister said that the military, as an institution, was extensively consulted. Do the opposition elements doubt this? Doctors often have a say when medical matters are discussed; teachers have a say when educational matters are discussed; chiefs have a say when traditional matters are discussed. If the military, which is the direct beneficiary of this agreement, supports it, let's respect their view, rather than seeking to mourn more than the bereaved.  

After the demonstrations by the opposition MPs and other assorted groups, which followed parliament's ratification of the agreement, the president was asked to speak, because his silence, according to them, was deafening. On Thursday, 5th April 2018, the president spoke to the issue. After his address, those who wanted him to speak, said what he said was insulting. Some of them rained insults on him, while others threatened him with impeachment. That is the Ghanaian! You wanted him to speak, but you only wanted him to say what you wanted to hear.

On 7 December 2016, Ghanaians voted with almost 54% to elect Nana Ado Dankwa Akufo Addo as the president of this country. We gave him a four year mandate, which will expire on 6 January 2021. There are those who think he is doing a good job, while others hold the view that he is not doing well. He is obviously running the country according to his personal convictions and the manifesto of his party. Those who think he is not doing well have every opportunity to change him and his party on 7 December 2020. That is the best they could do, instead of subjecting him to insults, attacks and unmitigated propaganda. Threats of civilian coups or civil uprisings have no place in our current dispensation. Until the elections in 2020, the opposition and all those who think like them can only have their say while the president has his way. That is democracy. Or is it "democrazy"?

 

LIEUTENANT COLONEL JOHN BUNTUGUH (RTD)

johnny.buntuguh@gmail.com

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